Sylvia counted her strides, each sweep of her skates making a crisp snick as it cut into the ice. One, two, three – then a quick spin in the other direction – one, two, three. If she lengthened her glide, she could reach the end of her tiny ice rink in two strides and a bit, but that required an awkward series of half-hopping steps to fit in the turn at each end. Besides, she liked the efficiency of three-turn-three.
Over the steady sound of her skates on the ice, she could hear a few words carried on the breeze. “Can you believe it… was before the Spanish flu… needed more space to dig… likely story… but Danny said…” Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Ben and Miles shifting uncomfortably as they squatted beside their fishing hole. They had shovelled off a narrow strip of ice for her to skate on before picking a nearby spot to drill, wielding the heavy auger with the ease of frequent use. She listened to them because she knew that when they caught a few smelt, they would pack up and head home. And she was skating to keep warm.
“Hey guys, catch anything yet?” she called out as she executed another perfect turn. The yarn tassel on the tip of Ben’s brown toque bobbed. “Nope, nary a nibble,” he replied as he always did. Miles sprawled on the overturned bucket, head tipped back, following a herring gull as it circled. Ben jiggled the short rod as he hunched over the ice. Nary a nibble – where did he get that from? Sylvia wondered, watching the darkening sky. It must be getting late, she thought, trying not to think about her toes.
One, two, three — turn — one, two … oh. She caught her breath as her blade slid into a jagged crack in the ice. For a long second, Sylvia was falling, her feet flying up as she collapsed onto the ice. She heard a faint screeee from the passing gull, and then the snow crunched beside her head. “You ok, Syl?” Ben bent down until his face was inches above hers. She contemplated his upside-down mouth. “I’m cold,” she said, just then registering the chill of the ice against her back.
Ben stepped to the side, then reached out and grabbed her gently by the shoulders, pulling her to a sitting position. He brushed snow off her hat, looked at her closely for a moment, then turned and called out to Miles, “Pack up, bud, no more fishing today”.
“Did you catch anything?” Sylvia asked as Ben pulled off his mittens and started unlacing her skates. He smiled. “Yeah,” he said, leaning toward her. His kiss, a snowflake on her lips.